Community Endowed Withfundamentrights and Entrusted with Responsibilities

Community Endowed Withfundamentrights and Entrusted with Responsibilities


Citizenship in a constitutional democracy differs from membership in an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. In a democracy each citizen is a full and equal member of a self-governing

community endowed withfundamentrights and entrusted with responsibilities.

Both the government and the citizens of a constitutional democracy are responsible for the protection of the rights of individuals and for the promotion of the common good.

What is citizenship?

Citizenship is legally recognized membership in a self-governing community. Citizenship:

■confers full membership (there are no degrees of citizenship).*

■confers equal rights under the law.*

■is not dependent on inherited groupings such as race, gender, or ethnicity.

■confers certain rights (e.g., the right to vote), but implies some responsibilities.

*The full membership and equal rights criteria are met by a law saying, for example, that all citizens gain the right to vote when they become eighteen.

How does a person become a citizen?

In general, a person becomes a citizen:

■by being born in the United States or

■by being naturalized by demonstrating:

residence in the United States for five years, ability to read, write, and speak English, proof of good moral character, knowledge of the history of the United States, knowledge of and support for the values and principles of American constitutional democracy.

What are the right of citizens?

Personal Rights deal with an individuals right to pursue happiness in his or her own way.

Personal rights include:

■freedom of conscience and religion.

■freedom of expression and association.

■freedom of movement and residence.


Political Rights deal with our ability to participate in and influence the government. Political rights include:

■the right to vote.

■therighTtopetition government.

■freedom of press.

■the right to trial by jury.

Economic Rights deal with our ability to earn, keep, and spend money.

Economic rights include the right to:

■acquire, use, transfer, and dispose of property.

■choose one's work and change employment.

■join labor unions and professional associations.

■establish and operate a business.

■establish copyrights and patents.

■enter into lawful contracts.

What are the scope and limits of rights?

All rights have a scope (what they apply to) and limits (where they end).

Several criteria are commonly used in determining what limits should be placed on specific rights:

■clear and present danger rule

■compelling government interest test

■national security

■libel or slander

■public safety

■equal opportunity

■conflict with the rights of others

For example, the scope of freedom of speech typically applies to political speech. People are free to say the President is a bad president without fear of reprisal. The scope of freedom of speech will not protect a person in private business from being fired if he says his or her boss is a lousy boss. Even political speech has limits. Freedom of speech does not extend to making a physical threat against a public official, for example.

The scope of freedom of association is relatively broad. One can, in general, associate with whomever you want. This right can be limited by the clear and present danger rule (a mob), the compelling government interest test (non-students can be prevented from entering a school and disrupting classes), public safety (elevator capacity is 12 people), equal opportunity (whites only rules are illegal), or conflict with the rights of others (I don't want to date you any more!).

What are the responsibilities of citizens?

A responsibility is normally thought of as something that should be done and as something that is within a person's control. Some responsibilities are reflected in laws (enforceable legal requirements like obeying a speed limit), and some are not (acting in a civil manner).

Commonly held Personal Responsibilities involve:

■taking care of one's self.

■supporting one's family.

■accepting responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.

■adhering to moral principles.

■considering the rights and interests of others.

■behaving in a civil manner.

Commonly held Political or Civic Responsibilities include:

■obeying the law.

■respecting the rights of others.

■being informed and attentive to public issues.

■monitoring political leaders and the government.

■deciding whether and how to vote.

■participating in civic groups.

■performing public service.

■serving as a juror.

■serving in the armed forces.

Commonly held Economic Responsibilities include:

■being economically self-supporting.

■paying taxes.

People meet some of their responsibilities better than others. In addition, responsibilities, just as rights, can sometimes conflict with other responsibilities, and people often have to establish priorities and make choices. For example, a person may meet his or her economic responsibilities very well, but, as a result, not participate in performing public service. A parent may feel that it is a higher responsibility to spend time at home with a newborn, even if that means economic difficulties for the rest of the family. In addition, all responsibilities need not be undertaken at the same time. Most students are not economically self-supporting, but contribute by getting the education that should help them be self-supporting in the future. A retiree may spend more time participating in civic groups, and it is more important for a person of voting age to be informed about public issues than a middle school student.

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